Stickman's Weekly Column April 15th, 2001

Stickman Weekly 15/4/2001

Thanks for all of the feedback about the inaugural Stickman Weekly column. It looks like expectations are high and I am going to have to pull finger my finger out to make the column really work. In last weeks column, I asked a question about the two different digital phone providers in Thailand, AIS & DTAC, and received some excellent responses, this one explaining the two systems very well.

The AIS and DTAC networks work in two different frequency bands, 900 and 1800 MHz. Basically, the quality of transmitted information via a radio channel improves the higher the frequency is. (That's why a FM radio stations sounds much better than an AM station.) Hence a 1800 MHz mobile network should allow better speech quality than a 900 MHz network. BUT, to get the most out of a 1800 MHz network is has to be planned, configured and set up in a much more costly way than a 900 MHz network. Every mobile network consists of a large number of base stations (those big antennas you see around the country) who cover a cell of a radius of up to 10 km (900 MHz) or 5 km (1800 MHz) under optimized conditions. The magic words here are ensuring "line of sight" and avoid "reflections". You can imagine that these optimized conditions apply in rural areas but are hard (if not impossible) to achieve in BKK. And due to smaller radio cells and higher sensitivity towards network configuration the DTAC network in BKK is still far from being highly qualitative. There are still areas with no reception at all in BKK (just ask the shop assistant on the 4th floor at Robinsons on Sukumvit to demonstrate you a DTAC mobile; the last time when I did, she admitted it won't work!). Some DTAC radio cells in BKK will need radii as small as 50 meters in order to guarantee clear speech quality. And of course, that's not cheap to do! On the other hand, DTAC seems to have finished their full network coverage in Thailand and outside BKK the quality should be pretty good.

There was also a lot of feedback regarding the disappearance of the flagship Burger King branch at Siam Square. Mr Roota had this to say:

He Clinic Bangkok
Sorry to inform you that Burger King is slowly closing down their Thailand outlets. Surprised you didn't know. One of the reasons is that the USA big boys who know everything about peoples tastes world wide, refused to change the menu to a more Asian orientated menu as McDonalds have done. Consequently they have lost business to the opposition and are going broke. Rather than change the menu they are happy to close up shop, enjoy the burgers whilst you can.

As the sun was setting late afternoon on Thursday the 12th, the time when Songkran usually gets going, I was most unfortunate to find myself trapped between sois 7 and 8 in Pattaya, warriors equipped with water cannons either side of me rapidly closing in on their trapped prey. If you do not know Pattaya, these are perhaps the two most happening sois and under normal circumstances they are chock-a-block with beer bars, bar girls and farang crazies. At Songkran time, even more of these farang crazies come out of the woodwork and it seemed that everyone but me had a high powered water cannon in what should have been called the soi 8 battlefield.

Walk past at your peril. Revellers at a beer bar in Soi 8, Pattaya
prepare to nail anyone who DARES walk past.

It was still dusk and it was that time in the early evening before most people had had a chance to get on the piss, and thankfully shuffling along and pointing at my camera seemed to have the effect of making the water warriors pity me and not fire in my direction. It looked as though I would be able to make my way up from Beach Road to the Second Road without somehow getting nailed. But then out of the blue came this huge farang, as fat as a walrus, and as cumbersome as an elephant. He had seen me cautiously making my way up the soi and camera or no camera, this guy had the sole purpose of drenching me. But what perturbed me was not so much that he wanted to see me wet, but that he had his eyes on, and obviously wanted to nail not me, but the camera. Luckily I saw the ugly oaf coming, the camera quickly dropped into its waterproof bag just as I winced as a deluge of water struck me and I felt the feeling of cold shivers shooting up my back as I went from being comfortably dry to totally drenched in a millisecond.

CBD bangkok

I do not have anything against Songkran in principle but I do not like the way many farangs do everything they can to inconvenience others and damn near ruin it. Too many farangs seem to have the attitude that it is the opportunity to legitimately piss off as many people as possible by drenching them but this is not at all the spirit of Songkran. Watching these cowardly individuals covertly sneak up on people who were obviously dressed for an evening out, drench them and run off in the opposite direction became tiresome quickly. Contrast this with the Thais who may spray you with water but will always do it with a smile and will never object to being shot at themselves. Protest that you are on your way somewhere and more often than not they will sprinkle just a little water on you, again with a smile and leave you to be on your way.

Songkran has got to be bad for many businesses, excluding those involved in the sale of water cannons – I won't say water pistols because I didn't see any of those, everyone seemingly opting for the manly cannons that can drench someone at ten metres. Finding myself down in Pattaya, I wanted to go and get a drink in one bar but there were hoards of folks firing at all and sundry who dared to infiltrate that bar area. While the Thais seemed to be having a ball as were the farangs who had joined in to play, a few of the farang bar owners were anxious to get the revellers away from their bar. Alas, it didn't work and there seemed to be some bars that had NO customers for long periods of time – because the customers didn't want to get soaked!

Before we leave Pattaya, is it me, or is Pattaya full of a bunch of incredibly well nourished girls – in the beer bars at least?

Back in Bangkok, it was Songkran as usual and no doubt Khao Sarn Road was wild. Cruising home from the bus station at Ekamai watching all of the unwary tourists getting drenched, I felt like I was in an armoured car, speeding through a war zone, knowing that the enemies bullets could not pierce the cars armour.

wonderland clinic

Friday night and for some stupid reason I decided to go to Nana Plaza… Well, the taxi pulled up outside and as my friend jumped out of the car, he was nailed within a fraction of a second. I closed the door of the cab and convinced the driver to get me even closer to the entrance which happened top be just out of range of those in the Golden Beer Bar who had just shot my friend. I somehow happened to make it up inside, accidentally bowling over some fellow who had a water cannon and was enthusiastically trying to spray me with it. Oh well, as accidental as it was, he got his just reward… Nana was a shadow of its usual self with most bars having perhaps 40% of the usual number of girls there. I didn't stay long enough to find out if the girls were more or less willing to go than usual, but one thing is for sure, there were VERY few customers. G Spot had approximately 30 girls and exactly 5 customers when I stuck my head in there at a little before 9:00 PM.

The Thai police – friend or foe? I had always had a bit of respect for them, that was up until Saturday night. After a pleasant evening at a friend's place where a bunch of expats got together to celebrate Songkran, we found ourselves (three farangs and one Thai girl) travelling in a taxi down ChokChai 4 Road. We saw a police road block up ahead and I thought little of it, even when the copper requested the cab to pull over to the side, indicating that questions would be asked. Sitting in the passenger's seat of the car, I was surprised when the copper came over and asked me for IF – asked in Thai that is. I played dumb, not to hard for me, and just said in English that I didn't know what he meant. "Pass-a-port, you have pass-a-port", he said to me. No, I didn't I said and this seemed to upset him. Technically this fellow, Darth Vader in disguise, was right. As foreigners, we are supposed to have our passport on us at all times but as it turned out none of us farangs did have ours on us, though we all had what I would consider to be more than adequate ID. The cop tried asking more questions and I just responded in English, not wanting to make his job ay easier, but being polite, pleasant and pretending that I didn't understand. Now being able to speak reasonable Thai, my farang friends seemed to think that I could simply throw a barrage of Thai at the copper and with a bit of luck from the force, he would go, but no, I didn't speak Thai and no, he didn't go! He was obviously weighing us up and looking for an avenue to extort a few baht, an action that would have resulted in him finding out that "yes sir, I do speak Thai and damn, I guess I must have forgotten it when you first asked". What agitated me the most was that he didn't even ask the taxi driver for any ID, nor the Thai lady in our group. The cop eventually let us go, but after five minutes of questioning in the most basic level of English that allowed him to ascertain absolutely nothing.

A few interesting points came out of this. First, even if you have done nothing wrong, the coppers want to see your passport and technically speaking you are supposed to have it on you at all times. Speaking English was the best approach in my opinion. Speaking Thai would have shown him that I was a local and he may have got nasty about me, a local, not having the passport on me. Had I had my passport on me, I probably would have spoken the local lingo. These cops WERE looking for a way to shake us down, and this doesn't seem totally uncommon at the moment. Carrying a photocopy of your passport on you would not be a silly idea.

A young entrepreneur selling water cannons
on Pattaya's Beach Road.

It seems that the current enforcement of the 2:00 AM closing time is from the Interior Ministry, right from the top. How long will it go on? Who knows? While the Thermae may continue to operate beyond that time, it is not at all the same after 2:00 – or 2:30 AM as it seems to be at the Thermae. Even down in Pattaya, most places seemed to be closing at 2:00 AM. The beer bars all said that they had to close at that time, and while I didn't make it down there, I was told that even the Marine Disco would not be open after 2:00 – now that is amusing as that place doesn't usually get going until AFTER 2:00. An expat friend said to me, "I'm quite happy that the scene is finishing early as it means that I don't have to wait until late to meet a girl" and I tend to agree. Hanging around at the Thermae until 5:00 AM is a killer for the following couple of days.

That visit(s) to Thailand effects some people heavily so much so that they want to move here. While MOST people are too proud to admit that it is ABSOLUTELY NOT what they want to be doing, the honest folks out there will openly admit that the only reason that they teach English is that it provides a way of legally staying in the country along with a mediocre amount of money to get by on each month. While language schools may hire new teachers all year round, now is the time that the universities hire, just before the new academic year is due to start. Check out the Bangkok Post for universities advertising for teachers but to earn the princely sum of 25,000 baht per month (a little over $US 500), they more often than not request that you have a Masters Degree, preferably in English or Education. $US 500 a month, what a deal!

As I bump into many folks down in the Thermae and I often end up in conversation with them, I notice the number of financial consultants in the city is escalating at a rapid pace, defying the dreadful state of the country's financial position. So what do these financial consultants actually do? Do they sell pensions or life insurance? No! Do they make predictions about the country's ailing currency? No! Do they advise or facilitate the sale of shares? Yes, well sort of.

From what I understand, what they actually do is call Australian telephone numbers (that's go to cost a bit surely?) and attempt to sell some sort of shares at a bargain price – before the shares are released at the genuine price… I smell something here! Now, this is all sounds even more little dodgy when you factor in that no one in these places of work uses their real name on the phone, nor are they supposed to let anyone else in the office know their real name either! Work permits are simply not available and they are discouraged from talking to others outside the office (especially nosy pricks like me!) about what they actually do. So, would someone like to volunteer a little information as to what these not so swanky, seemingly less than bona fide financial consultants do, other than congregate in the Thermae most nights? Send me an email and let me know – you have full anonymity.

But the interesting thing about this work is that it provides a REAL alternative to teaching in that the possibility to make real money, or at least ok money, exists. While a lot of these consultants earn around $1,000 a month, some of them earn upwards of $US 3,000 per month = 135,000 baht = a fair amount in this part of the world. What would you rather do? Teach English to students who are often disinterested and who often simply don't want to be there, for around 30,000 baht a month? Or talk dirty to Australian housewives and try and con them out of their life savings for a potential 135,000 baht a month. I chose to be a teacher. Am I mad? Should I swallow my pride and become a con man? Or have I got this whole share thing wrong? Who will be the first person to explain how it all works to me… Step up financial consultants!

It's hot as hell in Bangkok and its the time of year when your power bill goes through the roof. If you're coming to the Kingdom, remember that your air-con can potentially boost your electricity bill to an uncomfortably high level. You always know the farangs who have been in Thailand too long because it is they who sit in their apartment, sweating like a pig, too scared to turn on their air-con for fear that their English teacher's salary will not cover the bill – or will infringe upon their monthly Thermae spend. There is no mercy should they invite you around for a drink and you are forced to sit in the hot and sweaty pit, longingly gazing at the seemingly redundant air-con. If you really don't have any money and the heat is killing you, head over to Siam Discovery Center which has the coldest air-con in all of Bangkok – and hey, its free!

Songkran Thai style. Put the whole family on the back of a pickup truck,
equip with water cannons and a huge drum of water – and go hunting for farangs!

The bar scene is so easy to fall into. You arrive in Thailand with perfectly good intentions and you get suckered in by the seemingly sweet girls of the bar, the famous Thai bar girls. Before you know it, you are off with a couple of girls a week and after a year or two, you will hopefully start to realise that there is NO future in spending so much time with these nocturnal creatures. You know deep down that you want a nice Thai girl as your girlfriend, a REAL Thai girl who wouldn't be seen dead walking past the entrance way to Nana Plaza, let alone ever working in there. Finally, you get your opportunity to meet a nice Thai girl and you seize it with both hands. You treat the girl like a queen, she responds favourably, you fall in love and eventually you get married. You are pussy whipped, because quite simply, banging pros just isn't the real thing. The girlfriend experience is very much an illusion. Your own behaviour when you meet a nice girl, a real Thai girl who has never been involved in the bar scene will bring that right home to you. My strong advice here is that whatever you do, don't marry the first REAL Thai girl that you meet. It's sort of a bit like the guy back in Farangland who had absolutely no luck with the girls for what seemed like years and years, and when he finally got a girl, he married her. She realised that he was desperate due to incredibly low self esteem from a lack of relationships and she just controlled him like a puppet. Marrying the first real Thai girl you meet, even if you have been with 100s of bar girls, is not entirely different… If you want to get married to a local lass, date a few first. You wouldn't marry the first girl you met back home would you? You would? Oh dear…

A new bar is being constructed in the area beside Taboo, the short time bar found on the top floor of Nana Plaza which in turn is next to Carnival Bar. The entrance area has been developed and has a sort of cave like feel with this strange sort of exterior having been worked on recently. One of the hello folks who patrol the stairway just along from the work in progress said that the new bar is expected to open in about four months time. Nice to see this space will be used as it used to be empty, the rumour mill saying some girls actually used it as accommodation quarters. The new bar may be called Camouflage Bar as there are several notices erected around NEP asking for applications for all the usual suspects, dancing girls, waitresses and cashiers. With dancing girls being mentioned, it looks like this will be Nana's newest gogo bar. Let's hope that they get some new girls in and not a bunch of trolls who have been around the scene for a while. The days of a new bar opening used to be good as you could go along and see a bunch of predominantly fresh faced, enthusiastic girls. Nowadays, it seems that bars are just poaching girls from existing establishments, promising them a high salary to lure them over, and then meting the cost of the salary by selling beers at prices higher than any other bar… What will the new bar be like?

The outside area of a new bar under construction on the top floor of NEP.

I was in Cambodia last month and took a couple of cameras with me, one a digital still camera – good but not the best that money can buy, and the other a fairly good SLR with a high quality, low aperture, fixed focal length lens. I took around 450 pictures, about 250 with the digital and 200 on print film, professional quality print film no less. Why is it that the digital pics were far superior to the prints? My guess is that the quality of printing in some photo shops in Bangkok is way below par. Why do these shops insist on ALWAYS hiring the prettiest girls they can find? Why can't they actually hire some locals who know something about photography? Its sure discouraged me from using the SLR again. I'm now well and truly a digital man. Anyone in the market for a used Minolta SLR?

My best friend from NZ was in town recently. In Fantasia Bar in NEP, it was his round so he paid and when the change arrived, he scooped it all up from the tray. The waitress complained that there was no tip left in the tray and he promptly tipped her – I wanted to belt him for giving in to her downright rude comments… Should I have?

The bars in soi 33 offer something a little different to the farang who has tired of the gogo style bars that dominate Bangkok. I used to enjoy Monet Bar in this soi as it had a nice ambience and a bunch of extremely attractive but also fairly pleasant girls. Unfortunately, in the last six or so weeks, Monet has taken a rapid nose dive and if it was up before a jury, Monet would be found guilty on several fronts. Firstly, the sign on the door says that Patron Drinks cost 80 baht during the happy hour period when this is in fact total bollocks! Standard beers cost 80 baht, but some other drinks cost up to and even over 100 baht, including all whiskies. I have no problem with the prices that they charge whatsoever, but they really should get their signs and pricing correct. If they say 80 baht, then it should be 80 baht. Another gripe I have with this bar is that you don't get a tumbler with all of your bills inserted ala most other establishments. This leaves everything completely open to abuse. Either the staff at Monet didn't pass the most basic maths tests or abuse is common because whenever I go there, we get into a dispute over the bill. Educated they may not be, but I am sure that they can count to one! In several visits, this bar has had a nasty habit of diddling the bill – or maybe they just don't like me and are subtly discouraging me from patronising their establishment. While I am not shy to praise a bar that is offering a good service or doing something right, neither I am shy to point out when they are up to no good. At Monet beware of your bill. (But the girls are the best in the soi!)

I'm still getting a feel for where this column is going and how long it will be each week. A few locals have said to me that they are surprised that I chose to make this a weekly and questioned whether I would have enough to write about. No problem there at all – I could have written almost twice as much but have saved a lot of the other stuff for next week's column.

Keep out of the heat – go and get a free dosage of Siam Discovery Center's cool air!

Your Bangkok commentator,


nana plaza